This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Cartoon theology and Western prejudice

The situation of Islam, with respect to Western civilization, is an unfortunate one. It is close enough that Western people are unavoidably aware of it and have formed ideas about it; and yet it is alien enough in spiritual style and cultural expression to remain virtually impenetrable to them. In other words, Islam is less alien than Hinduism or Taoism, yet by the very fact of being more familiar, it is more misunderstood, almost as if the closer a thing is to us, the more likely we are to develop false impressions about it.

Again, the Hindus are generally misunderstood in the West, but they are far enough out of our range that they benefit from a lack of imaginative attention, which is to say that Western people do not spend much time inventing ideas about Hinduism. The result is that the Western mind produces only a few shallow misconceptions, and these errors are less likely to be held very passionately, since there are somewhat tentative, as they should be. Americans, for their part, may have ridiculous notions of what they imagine a Hindu to be, and even more ridiculous ideas about what they imagine Hindus believe, but these ideas are rarely developed into decisive, confident prejudices. As an example, Western ‘yoga’ has nothing to do with Hindu yoga, but the nature of the difference does not create much antagonism, much less does it result in violence, as can be seen by the proliferation of yoga studios everywhere in the United States.

With Islam, it is very different. Closer proximity and a rocky historical relationship give the impression of a false familiarity, and this leads to the development of very passionate, rigorously held bigotries that not only drive public opinion but even public policy.

This is not necessarily the result of some special ill-will on the part of the West toward Islam, or at least not primarily a result of ill-will. Americans commit similar crimes against themselves. Consider the American view of their own history. We have remarked elsewhere that most Americans think they know everything they need to know about their history, so that each can say with a remarkably degree of certainty ‘what this country was founded on’, despite never having read a single page of what the founders wrote.

What Americans do have, at least with respect to their collective awareness of their own past, is a kind of ‘cartoon history’, a product of self-inflicted propaganda, ‘good marketing’ in the service of patriotism, which presents a child’s schoolbook version of history tailor-made to suit an ideological framework, and the result is of course very flattering and very simplistic.

We mention cartoon histories here in order to say that when it comes to Islam, what most Western people have is not only a cartoon history but also a cartoon theology: Muslims are by and large the brown-skinned, sword-wielding, hand-chopping, tongue-wagging, villains of Crusader-lore; they are the fanatical proponents of the terrible ‘jihad’, a concept envisioned here as some kind of God-sanctioned quest to make the world Muslim or else murder everyone in the process. The perpetrators of the jihad, for their part, are motivated primarily by the promise of a personal collection of virgins in paradise, should they die in combat, as if the dozens of wives they presumably had in their worldly lives were not enough. Lustful, barbaric, misogynistic, fanatically violent: that is Islam, to the West.

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